Saturday, January 19, 2008

All in the Family: Interior Development and the Micro-Evolution of Man

One book that influenced me along the way was Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, which is packed with fascinating details about what life was like for pre-modern Europeans. In contrast, A Secular Age is so dense and wordy that I'm having a little difficulty getting through it. Reminds me too much of school -- one of those books I should read, but don't really want to. Oh, the things I do for my readers.....

Surprisingly, Stone's book has only one amazon review, but it's pretty spot-on: "It is an excellent source of information for genealogists trying to understand the motivation of ancestors whose actions seem incomprehensible today. By providing detailed analysis of family relationships from 1500 to 1800 in England, Mr. Stone has given us all an insight into thought processes and values that are very different from our own. The book would be equally valuable for anyone trying to understand the everyday lives of people in another time, to historians, to authors doing research for historical novels or plays, or simply to anyone who wants to take the equivalent of a ride in a time machine."

Having said that, I think I read somewhere that Stone was a Man of the Left, so I have no idea if he had some other agenda in writing the book (e.g., "deconstructing the family" or "queering the patriarchy"), but it seems hard to fault his data. It certainly rang true to me, because the one thing I always wanted to know about history is, "why were people so freaking crazy?" One of the things that made history so boring to me as a young kit is that it was just a chronicle of insane behavior, with no explanation for why people were so nutty.

Not until I began studying psychohistory did things begin to add up. Now I wonder why history isn't even crazier than it is. As Woody Allen said about the Holocaust, the only question is why it doesn't happen more often. At the same time, the psychohistorical perspective has added to my gratitude for being so fortunate to live in the United States at this particular time. Judged by the standards of historical precedent, every day is a miracle.

In any event, Stone begins by pointing out the four key features of the modern family -- again, things that we probably just take for granted, but which, from the point of view of developmental psychology, could hardly be of more earth-shattering consequence. If we fail to understand how different we are from our furbears, we will just project the present onto the past, and thereby not really understand it at all. The four features are

1) "intensified affective bonding of the nuclear core at the expense of neighbors and kin"; 2) "a strong sense of individual autonomy and the right to personal freedom in the pursuit of happiness"; 3) "a weakening of the association of sexual pleasure with sin and guilt"; and 4) "a growing desire for physical privacy." All of these trends were well established by the mid-18th century in the English middle and upper classes.

However, it's not as if it were a linear process of evolution. Rather, Stone describes it as more analogous to an archaeological dig, in which different layers and strata are copresent, revealing very different "psychoclasses" (deMause's term), so to speak, living side by side. This is no different than today. For example, in my work conducting psychological evaluations of a culturally diverse population, I see the vast "vertical" differences between different cultural practices and beliefs, especially with regard to childrearing. For the left, these differences are purely "horizontal," which is why, for example, feminist groups have been so conspicuously silent about the greatest global threat to the well-being of women, Islam.

As Stone writes, "older family types survive unaltered in some social groups at the same time other groups are evolving new patterns." One of my beefs with the Democrat party is that they make transparent appeals to more primitive mentalities and psychoclasses, which probably constitute the majority of their constituency. The appeal of a John Edwards is strictly limited to the very stupid and very angry.

Oddly, the left is a combination of the over-educated (or uselessly educated), the fortuitously wealthy (i.e., Hollywood, the MSM), and the psychoculturally primitive, the latter of whom are ceaselessly manipulated by the former because it makes them feel good about themselves, even while guaranteeing that their largely self-generated problems will continue -- which may be the whole point, as the contemptuous leftist requires people to whom he can feel morally and intellectually superior under the guise of "rescuing." Look at the flack Obama is getting from the Clintons for being an ungrateful negro. Doesn't he realize that without LBJ, that goddamned nigger preacher (as President Johnson called King) wouldn't have accomplished a thing?

Let's not get sidetracked. With regard to marriage, it doesn't surprise me at all to learn that what we take for granted as modern companionate love, just didn't exist in the pre-modern world. Rather, through the middle ages, marriage was basically "a private contract between two families concerning property exchange, which also provided some financial protection to the bride in case of the death [or desertion] of her husband." I can't help thinking that most people literally couldn't fall in love, for a whole host of developmental reasons, not the least of which being that the foundation and possibility of love is laid down in the first two years of life, during the critical period of bonding and attachment to our parents. If you consider the incredibly callous way in which children were treated (which we'll get into below, both today and in subsequent posts), it is not surprising that earthly love was not on their psychological radar.

This is not to say that pre-modern marriages were entirely loveless. Again, remember the idea of the psychohistorical "strata." It's just that by the 17th century, as described by Spierenburg, there emerges an unprecedented "romantic ideal," along with the greater choice of a partner. At the same time, the "emotional distance" between family members begins to shrink. Before 1700, wives and children typically open letters with"My Lord Husband" or "My Lord Father," and use very formal and stiff language. From the age of 7 or 8 -- or whenever they were capable of doing so -- children were simply put to work. They were mainly regarded as an economic resource, not a cherished object of emotional intimacy. There was a much higher rate of accidental deaths of children, partly because parents just paid so little attention. I look at my son, who is admittedly on the "spirited" side of the continuum, but he would have been dead in five minutes without a body on him at all times, something that would have been quite difficult in the pre-modern world, when everyone was working from sunup to sundown.

One reason we are so much more empathic toward our children is that most of us remember what it was like to be young -- we remember the ecstasies, the frustrations, the fears, the rages. But we know that people who were traumatized during childhood generally don't remember it all that clearly or accurately. In fact, the more they were traumatized, the more they tend to act out the trauma as adults, often toward their own children, as a pathological form of "recollection." I always find it fascinating to interview such a person, because as you get close to the trauma, their mind begins generating "flack." They start to lose coherence in the most striking manner. Not uncommonly, linear history breaks down altogether. I call this a "dimensional defense," as they essentially break up time into incomprehensible "bits" that prevent them from being synthesized into an unwanted meaning.

Along these lines, Spierenburg writes that adults were so preoccupied with their own concerns, that "they never seemed to remember what it was like to be young." Not surprisingly, there was "a large measure of indifference" toward sucklings in particular. Any parent who had the financial means to do so, simply placed the infant with a wet nurse, even though (because?) this greatly raised the chances of mortality. Stone cites much evidence of "culpable neglect" for the astonishing rates of infant mortality, from lack of attention in the first few critical weeks of life to outright abandonment of the child. Even if left at a the doorway of a church or foundling hospital, the rate of death was astronomical.

Hazards were everywhere -- death from fevers during teething, worms, contaminated water, poisonous pewter dishes, inadequate milk supply. Dead and butchered animals were left to decay in the street, latrines were adjacent to water supplies, open pits were used as common graves, only covered over when full. "In 1742 Dr. Johnson described London as a city 'which abounds with such heaps of filth as a savage would look on in amazement.'" Human excrement was everywhere, which lead to constant outbreaks of bacterial stomach infections. The medical profession "was almost entirely helpless," since even their theories of disease were catastrophically wrong. Not a single disease was properly understood. For example, a doctor might treat cataracts by blowing dried and powdered human excrement into the eye.

Spierenburg writes that "when a child died, the parents felt hardly any grief, thinking the loss of one would no doubt be compensated by another birth." In the contemporary West, we call such a person "Schizoid" -- that is, someone who is curiously indifferent to intimate relationships. It's more common than you may realize, and in fact, most "normal" neurotics might have some schizoid "envelopes" that essentially form closed sub-systems within the psyche (this would be a typical form of mind parasite).

Consider the "great" Rousseau, who had five children with his companion, but abandoned them all without a moment of remorse. In a letter, he casually commented that they were all "put out as foundlings. I have not even kept a note of their dates of birth, so little did I expect to see them again." None of his contemporaries -- including enemies -- chided him for this.

Even under the best of circumstances, about half of children had lost at least one parent by the time of adolescence. So to say that attachment, bonding, and intimacy could not flourish under such circumstances is not to criticize them. Again, the great mystery is how modern people broke through that emotional barrier and became.... modern people.

Stone writes that in order to "preserve mental stability," parents were naturally "obliged to limit the degree of their psychological involvement with their infant children." Even when wanted, "it was very rash for parents to get too emotionally concerned about creatures whose expectation of life was so very low." In fact, multiple children would often be given the same name, assuming that only one would survive to carry it into the future. It cannot be coincidence that, as infant mortality begins to fall in the mid-18th century, we see a corresponding great rise in affection and intimacy in general.

Stone concludes that "it is impossible to stress too heavily the impermanence of the Early Modern family." None of its members "could reasonably expect to remain together for very long, a fact which fundamentally affected all human relationships."

To be continued....


julie said...

I have a copy of Lileks' "Mommy Knows Worst," which is full ads and articles about methods of childrearing that were popular in the early twentieth century. It's funny to us (and with his commentary, it's often downright hilarious), but some of it is also pretty disturbing. We hear of neglectful parents who leave their kids in the car while they go off to drink or get their hair done; a hundred years ago, they would have given the baby a "calming syrup" of strong opiates, then left it at home alone. I can't even imagine how a steady diet of opium would affect child's development (assuming they survived, of course), but the thought is horrifying.

In light of all this information, it's no surprise that in the past God's message was conveyed more as one of sin and repentance, damnation and hellfire. After all, if you can't even conceive of a loving family how can you possibly comprehend a truly loving and benevolent God?

Gagdad Bob said...

Precisely. One thinks of Allah as well...

Petey said...

Allah in the Family, so to speak.

walt said...

Bob, you mentioned:
"Not until I began studying psychohistory did things begin to add up."

I was intensely interested in history as a kid, and dug through encyclopedias endlessly. But as I grew up, this morphed into an even greater interest in psychology and spiritual matters. I think I was looking for a "quick fix" for my perception that people around me were nuts.

What was presented as history in school was absurdly shallow; I knew that by the time I was in the sixth grade!

Bob said...

"But we know that people who were traumatized during childhood generally don't remember it all that clearly or accurately. In fact, the more they were traumatized, the more they tend to act out the trauma as adults, often toward their own children, as a pathological form of "recollection." I always find it fascinating to interview such a person, because as you get close to the trauma, their mind begins generating "flack." They start to lose coherence in the most striking manner. Not uncommonly, linear history breaks down altogether."
This is the part of Bob's post that meant the most to me, and why we hang in there as foster parents with some incredibly rageful and unbonded little boys. Girls, too, but especially little boys seem not to be fond of being abandoned.

Gagdad Bob said...

One of the greatest films on the horror of childhood was Night of the Hunter, a surreal and nightmarish allegory that works on many psychological levels.

Mizz E said...

WSJ has a review today of the 5 essential ? books for understanding the history of "fanaticism".

And here's an article about modern day maverick reverends that creeps me out.

julie said...

Mizze, very creepy and disheartening. Churches do need rules, I think, but these cases sound more like an abuse of power by church administration than an effective means of dealing with the sins of the flock.

primal_john said...

It was a lot less time than 100 years ago. I'm 76 and I remember in the fifties at my father's general merchandise store in Louisiana, we sold a lot of patent medicine. One item was paregoric, which was tincture of opium and was sold as a remedy for "colicky" infants. It "helped" just about any malady, I'm sure. By the sixties, paregoric was no longer available. So instead those babies might have to have been held instead of being sedated!

problem child said...

I was a colicky child in the sixties and I could have used the paregoric. Instead, my parents put me in a separate room, closed the door, and let me "cry it out."

As a result I have some issues as an adult. I have trouble attaching to a mate. I have a pervasive sense of not getting enough love. I can be actually cradled in the arms of my mate being nuzzled and talked to, and feel like I'm not getting enough love. There is a black hole, a bottomless pit there, that I can't fill and that really sucks. Actual affection won't satisfy my need for affection. The horror.

primal_john said...

Problem Child:
I assume the holding in the present reminds you of what you needed but didn't get. You probably didn't cry it out, but rather gave up hope of getting what you needed then, so that now too much is still not enough! So very sad. Your name is legion.

Van said...

What Walt said.

Van said...

I had a colicky child. Did the football carry round and round the couch throughout the a.m., night after night.

I needed to be sedated.

Long term behavioral affects upon me include flashing baby pictures to his girlfriend... reminiscing about various diaper disasters when she is around...

It's still awful, but I'm slowly recovering... he's not, mores the pity.


walt said...

I have heard about paregoric, and just may have had a nip or two -- for I remember my mother saying to me once, "You used to be such a happy child!"


primal_john said...

It tough being a parent, Van, but tougher being an infant.

Van said...

“A few readers keep insisting in the teeth of this evidence that "folks is folks, everywhere the same."”

Even more difficult than putting yourself in other peoples place, is realizing that you may have to leave part of you behind to do so.

For me it has been a hard idea to get around, that people haven’t always been the same and even now aren’t the same everywhere. But it seems to me, that if you understand Ideas, and how much the understanding of them deepens with your consideration of them over time, and how merely holding, as opposed to acting on those ideas can alter your understanding of them as well as your actions stemming from them – then you have to understand that in their absence… there is an absence.

Van said...

primal_john said "It tough being a parent, Van, but tougher being an infant."

That may be true, but part of being a parent is trying your damndest to ensure that that isn’t true.

Mizz E said...

All of What Van Said™

Anonymous said...

It's curious that all of Bob's descriptions about life between 1500 and 1800 remind me of my visit to India.

It's wierd that those people are not self-reflecting. I kept asking, why don't you stop praying all the time and reflect. Maybe have some doubt, get and ipod, and join the Republican party. Also, why do you live side by side with those damn Allah worshippers?

All they could do was dot my forehead with some silly red dye and chant mantras!
It was irritating to say the least, and I sure as hell would not want to find my self in heaven with them.

hoarhey said...

^Another anonymous Kos bigot? ^
Transparent bastiges that they are.

On the subject of "calming syrups",
the more things change, the more they remain the same. If it's not paregoric, it's Ritalin. Not that drugs don't have their place in certain limited circumstances but my opinion is that they are over used due to the pervasive problem of lazy parenting.

hoarhey said...

Obviously the red dye didn't take.

julie said...

Oddly enough, O Ninnyous, I was thinking today that a lot of third and even second world countries aren't so different from how the modernized West was, and I'm not talking about iPods vs. constant prayer.

First there was this article I saw today (via Instapundit) about malnutrition in Africa. The interesting thing about this article, to me, is that up until a couple of centuries ago that was the standard of living for virtually everyone everywhere, with the exception of the elite classes who could afford to ship home a variety of foods and spices. For everyone else, there were a couple of staple crops, some local greens, and whatever meat you could get. If the weather was temperate, you ate well that year, but if it was too hot or too cold you starved. Much of the world is still that way. The real tragedy is, it doesn't have to be.

As to India, I can't claim to have been there. But I have read accounts from those who have in recent years, and what they had to say painted a less than flattering picture. Yes, there is a lot of prayer and sacred wisdom. There is also a lot of rampant poverty, child abuse, and general human misery and suffering the likes of which we Westerners can barely comprehend.

Here for instance, we see their enlightened attitudes towards women:

"Among the girls pictured on these pages is Labhuben, who will probably be a victim of a situation that has come about through the long-term effects of this selective abortion. Namely, a shortage of brides of marriageable age and the institution of a barter system: 'I'll marry your sister if you'll marry mine.' Sheikh implies that girls like Labhuben risk ending up in the town of Mewat, 30 miles outside of Delhi, where 'what amounts to a modern slave trade operates a bride bazaar'. There, Sheikh writes, 'Women are offered for sale at a variety of prices. The price is determined by factors such as age, virginity, skin colour (the lighter the better) and the number of times a woman has been sold before.'"

"All we see of Sonali are her work-worn hands, gracefully folded on her lap. She is a 14-year-old from Bihar in eastern India. Sheikh's account describes how she was found wandering in a village near Karnal, her clothes soaked in blood after she had been raped. The experience affected her mentally. When her parents were tracked down they denied all knowledge that they had such a daughter. When Fazal photographed Sonali, she had been living in a shelter for three months."

Just a taste, anonymous. How different would you be, if that was your life?

Anonymous said...

You are making my point precisely.

Obviously heaven has a slightly different set of standards, than standard of living.

As Bob mentioned a few posts back, in describing his REAL neighborhood growing up, the one that he had no idea about, it is the same everywhere. In the west, it simply is HIDDEN.
We prefer, for example, the abstract violence of video games, violent movies, and carpet bombing of our enemies, rather than the more "archaic" forms of previous cultures, or third world cultures.
This somehow pacifies us into thinking we are more "civilized".
Once you actually get to know the people, in India, for example, you find out that they actually don't think like herds, and neither did their "furbears". They are thoughtful, devoted, for the most part, and genuine. I never once was treated to NASCAR or Reality TV.
Yes, in the west we have all the goodness that Freud brought. In India, they have all the goodness that Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Ghandi, etc. brought. Very different world actually.
Would I want to live there? No, but I was not born there either. Is it paradise? Far from it. Pretty nasty, actually. Are they somehow less evolved because they are hungry and don't live as long? That's the question now isn't it?

julie said...

Frankly, anonymous, I don't see how I am making your point. Of course, in the midst of all of that, one does find genuine warmth and goodness and love and compassion. They are loved as all humans are loved, and frankly the fact that we are as we are now is the real miracle. I made the point, the other day, that the issue is probably 99% circumstance; from a Darwinian evolutionary point-of-view, of course they're no different.

Have great wisdom and learning come out of India? Yes, indisputably. This doesn't change the fact that their (many, in the case of India) cultures are mired in some pretty serious problems that also hold them back. They don't think like actual herds, of course not. But when, for instance, a mother is offered an opportunity to send her daughter to school and thus, eventually to a better life, and opts instead to keep the daughter home to work as a prostitute or a laborer, this cannot not have an effect on how the child perceives the world. Herd mentality? Not quite, perhaps more like the lobsters who drag the escapees back into the pot.

walmart shopper said...

Are they somehow less evolved because they are hungry and don't live as long?

No, they're less evolved because they sell their daughters at the wife bazaar. And they disown the daughter who's been raped and is found bloody and wandering. Did you not read Julie's post?

Anonymous said...

"It tough being a parent, Van, but tougher being an infant.

I can't tell you how often I said that!

I still can't handle thinking about Tristan's first year. He was colicky, wouldn't sleep; I was depressed and desparately tired and T wouldn't take a bottle or let anyone else soothe him. But at least I know he was held the whole time.

I remember wishing at the time that I could get my hands on some "calming syrup," though.

Petey said...

Re the above discussion about different cultures: just open all borders, give everyone a free airplane ticket, and see who chooses to live where. Anonymous would be very surprised at the results.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"It was irritating to say the least, and I sure as hell would not want to find my self in heaven with them."

I sure as hell don't think you have to worry about that Anon.

Anonymous said...

It's true, we don't sell our wives. We divorce them.

America murders via abortion over million/year.

America imprisons at a higher per capita rate than anywhere else in the world.

We hide our violence by murdering before people are born, or incarcerating the mentally ill and drug addicted.

I agree it is tidier!

I am not suggesting it makes it worse than anywhere else, but it doesn't make it more "evolved" to hide it either.

hoarhey said...

"Are they somehow less evolved because they are hungry and don't live as long? That's the question now isn't it?"

No that isn't THE question, that is YOUR question.
The reason why you wouldn't live there is because for the most part, the culture they've developed SUCKS. Your chances of living a good life, slim to none and your chances of living like a dog, very good, although things are changing. And why are they changing? Because they are adopting a more "western" mode of living using capitalism to lift people out of abject poverty.
Does that mean that there isn't infinite wisdom, spiritual or otherwise, to be found there? Yes there is. But what good is that wisdom when instead of being made into McDonalds hamburgers, cows are looked upon as sacred and allowed to walk and shit wherever they wish because of a direct correlation to eastern religious dogma. You might be eating aunt Smita.
As poorly as you wish to paint this country, although imperfect, it's still the best thing you're likely to see in your lifetime. That's why you keep running your mouth but won't leave. You choose this country because of its EVOLVED standards of living which relate directly to culture and then try and look down your nose at others as if they are the bigots.